Front or top loader? Seven myths debunked

If you think a front loader won't work for you, you might be surprised.

Adding washing powder to top loader washing machine

We’ve been putting washing machines through the wringer since the 1960s and in that time, a pattern has emerged – front loaders perform better.

Our tests prove top loaders are tougher on fabrics, take up more space, guzzle water, and don’t remove dirt that well.

Our latest test confirms this pattern. Of course, clean laundry isn’t the only key to long-term happiness with your washing machine. You’ll also be hoping for years of hassle-free operation. Our latest reliability and owner satisfaction survey, which included 1052 top loaders and 1637 front loaders, showed both types were equally reliable (88% and 89%, respectively, bought new in the past five years didn’t have a fault). However, there was a marked difference in satisfaction, with front loader owners significantly happier with their purchase (81% were very satisfied versus 73% of top loader owners).

Why then, when it’s clear front loaders are better, do we still recommend the occasional top loader? Because, for some people, a front loader simply isn’t the right choice and, at Consumer, we’re all about helping you identify the product that best suits your circumstances. But if you’ve always assumed a front loader wouldn’t work for you, you might be surprised. Here, we dispel some misconceptions about both types.

"Front loaders are too small"

If you have jumbo-sized piles of laundry, don’t assume your only option is a top loader. The largest domestic-purpose washing machines are 16kg front loaders. The biggest top loaders, meanwhile, are 13kg.

"Only a top loader would fit"

If space is tight (less than 65cm, which is the minimum needed for a standard 60cm-wide machine with a few centimetres’ wiggle room), you’ll have no choice but a top loader. It’s slim pickings though, as most top loaders are at least as wide as the average front loader. They’re also generally deeper and always taller. A front loader is best for using space efficiently as it can double as a benchtop or allow a dryer to be conveniently mounted above.

"Front loaders take so long"

Front loaders generally take longer, but their cycles are often not as long as stated in the manual (when the load’s small, the programme usually gets shorter automatically). For example, Samsung says its 8.5kg WW85K5410WW front loader ($1599, 78%) takes about 278 minutes to complete a “Cotton, Cold, 1400rpm, option+, 3:20 to go” cycle, but our 3.5kg test load took less than half that. Most manmade fabrics are not as robust as cotton so a typical “mixed” cycle is even faster, but if you’re in a hurry, use the “quick” setting. Or, you could delay the start and let the machine do its thing while you’re out, then hang your laundry out later.

"Top loaders are cheaper"

Contrary to expectations, not all top loaders are cheap as chips and not all front loaders will burn a hole in your pocket.

In our reliability survey, the average top loader bought in the past five years was cheaper than the average front loader. That said, a third of top loaders cost more than $1000, whereas a third of front loaders came in under $1000. Among tested models, the 8.5kg Electrolux EWF12853 front loader scores 81% overall and will set you back $999. At $2049, the 8.5kg Fisher and Paykel WA8560P1 top loader is more than twice the price, but doesn’t perform as well – scoring just 68%.

"Front loaders get yucky"

The rubber seal of a front loader’s door can get mouldy. But you change the oil in your car, remove lint from the tumble dryer … so it shouldn't be a hassle to run a maintenance cycle and wipe down the rubber door seal. And it’s not just front loaders that require maintenance washes. Scrud (the waxy build-up that occurs when fabric softener comes into contact with detergent) can affect front and top loaders. Some machines have cleaning cycles, or else you could run a long, high-temperature cycle without detergent and clothes.

"Top-loading is more convenient"

“You can’t add anything to a front loader” is a common complaint, but that was then. These days, several manufacturers make front loaders with an “add item” hatch. As for people with mobility issues, it’s true they may find a top loader easier to access, but a pedestal can raise a front loader by between 30cm and 67cm, making the drum more accessible. Also, pedestals usually include a drawer, which is handy as you may no longer be able to use the top of the machine as a work or storage surface.

"Front loaders are better for power and water use"

Our annual running cost figures assume one “normal” wash cycle a day, at 26¢ per kilowatt hour. This makes front loaders seem power-hungry, but the difference between top and front loader running costs for a “normal” cycle may be negligible: the 7.5kg Electrolux EWF12753 front loader ($1299, 75%) costs $10 a year, whereas the 7.5kg Samsung WA75F5S top loader ($999, 67%) consumes $6 in electricity. When it comes to being water-wise, front loaders can’t be beat. The 7.5kg Samsung WW75J4213IW ($997, 82%) is the least water-efficient front loader in our database, with 7.3/10. That’s a lot better than the most water-efficient top loader, the 7kg Haier HWT70AW1 ($749, 69%) at 6.4/10.

The top performers

The top performers

14jan washing machines washing basket default

The top performers

We’ve tested the dirt removal, gentleness and efficiency of a wide range of washing machines. Use our database to find the model and price that’s right for you.

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Edward P.
03 Jun 2019
front loaders cause more vibrations if not on a concrete floor

Be very cautious before installing a front loader in a wooden floored (piled) house. After buying our house we discovered the previous owner's rennovations (moving the washing machine location) meant the washing machine was over a poorly-supported part of the floor and made the whole house shake (we tried 2 brands of front loader so it isn't brand specific). Although we didn't try a top-loader, physics suggests it wouldn't have this problem as the forces are parallel to the floor not perpendicular. The solution was to cut a hole in the floor and build a concrete plinth for the machine that sits on the dirt below and finishes level with the floor so it technically isn't touching the house.

R & R B.
12 May 2019
Add an item easy.

When i was searching for a front loader that could have an item added to it, my salesperson steered me away from the more expensive advertised "Add an item" machine to the pause button on most front loaders. The machine pauses, 3 seconds for the door to unlock, throw in the sock and we are away washing again. Easy peasey! (and no, the water does not come pouring out onto the floor)

Dawn N.
11 May 2019
Front loader convert

We lived and worked in UK for some years and because of housing style had to use a front loader in the kitchen. The original Hotpoint was a total disaster mechanically but we replaced it with a Bosch which we found was superb, We brought it back to NZ with us and only replaced it because it finally wore out aged 17 years! We bought another Bosch front loader and because of advancing years my husband built a dais for it to stand on in the laundry. Utterly convinced I dont want a top loader ever again. It washes brilliantly, has a vast array of settings so I can do all my delicates in 15 minutes, and I run a machine clean cycle every month-ish. To the person who asked about her machine walking and vibrating, in my experience that usually means the machine is not balanced (Check the feet/floor)

Patricia J.
11 May 2019
front loader walkabout

I bought a front loader after years of top loaders and it is fine BUT no one has been able to stop it from walking and the vibration is significant - any suggestions?

Sierra R.
24 Jul 2019
Walking front loader

I haven't tried this yet, but my dad suggested putting a concrete paving stone under the machine (one as big as the floor area of the machine). The idea is that tge paving stone will create a furner surface and stop the vibrations.

Linda M.
11 May 2019
Front loaders vs backs

One of my issues with a front loader is having to bend way over to retrieve articles from its depths - and another is that if you want to stop the machine and retrieve an item, you can't. For fibre craft workers, top loaders rule!

Jan
11 May 2019
Front loaders vs backs

I totally agree with Linda M but I have room to have my washer and dryer side-by-side so I have them mounted 600mm from the floor.